A college professor who successfully sued his university after being punished for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns is encouraging Christians “to resist” and not “give in” to cultural pressures.
Dr. Nick Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, told CBN’s Faithwire he relied on prayer and Scripture to navigate his nearly four-year legal battle.
Now, he’s encouraging others to be resolute and take a stand in their own lives.
“We cannot give in,” he said, explaining what sustained him throughout the ordeal. “Scriptures were extremely helpful, the Psalms — even the book of Revelation — teaches very, very clearly we must resist in a kind way, a humble way, a reasonable way.”
After rebuffing the student’s demands, Meriwether found himself in the crosshairs of the culture wars in 2018.
Watch him tell his harrowing story:
“It was on the first day of class in 2018,” he said. “A male student approached me after class and demanded that I use female titles and pronouns, and I explained to him that I would not be able to do that.”
The student reportedly became upset and threatened to get Meriwether fired before filing a university complaint and igniting a dispute between the professor and the institution. Initially, officials agreed Meriwether could use the student’s preferred name rather than pronouns, but the student purportedly rejected that compromise.
That’s when Meriwether said he was again told he needed to use female pronouns and titles.
“I was going to be punished, not for something that I was doing, but for something that I would not do, and that was to affirm the gender identity ideology … I would not affirm the ideology,” he said. “It was really about compelling me to speak in a way that conflicted with my beliefs as a Christian and a philosopher.”
He was given a warning in his personal file, and Meriwether feared the next time the same dispute unfolded, he “would have been fired.” That’s when he decided to sue Shawnee State, sparking a years-long battle.
“I thought it was an egregious violation of free speech,” Meriwether said. “I would not stand for it. I simply would not go along with it.”
After The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in March 2021 that Shawnee State violated Meriwether’s free speech rights, the college paid out a $400,000 settlement, a sum Meriwether said will mostly cover legal expenses.
The professor continued teaching at Shawnee State during the ordeal and remains a philosophy professor there even after the settlement. The community, he said, was overwhelmingly supportive during the ordeal, including some students and professors who disagreed with his stance.
One of the elements not often discussed in these cases is how people forgive and move forward after so much pain, anguish, and frustration. Meriwether chooses to absolve those who impacted his life throughout the ordeal and looks to Scripture as his guide.
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“Christians are commanded by our Lord to forgive our enemies. The New Testament is extremely clear: We will have a lot of opposition, and we have to be loving, kind, and humble to those who oppose us, especially when they oppose us for our faith,” he said. “We can meet that challenge if we are humble and reasonable and rational and kind and generous, the very virtues that the New Testament compels us to adopt.”
This advice is pertinent and practical, especially as more people face similar struggles. Logan Spena, legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that defended Meriwether, said cases like this are becoming increasingly prevalent.
“It’s becoming extremely common for school districts at the high school, even lower levels and then of course universities … to begin requiring teachers and professors to affirm this [gender] ideology,” Spena said. “It did take a long legal battle in order for Dr. Meriwether’s rights to be vindicated.”
He continued, “But I think what it illustrates is that the constitutional principles that actually govern in this area are still strong and will vindicate those rights when people are willing to stand up like Dr. Meriwether.”
For its part, Shawnee State University put out a statement calling the settlement an “economic decision” and denied any wrongdoing.
“Though we have decided to settle, we adamantly deny that anyone at Shawnee State deprived Dr. Meriwether of his free speech rights or his rights to freely exercise his religion,” the text reads, in part.
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